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The Warmth of Love

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When Tris leaves for Lightsbridge, there’s a quiet gathering—not quite a party, because Tris wouldn’t have accepted one—in their home. The door to the garden is open, though not all the windows are; even with the muggy heat draped over the town, it’s better to let Tris control which winds whisper in her ears and dance before her eyes.

Tris herself is in her room, tidying and making sure her room will remain clean while she’s off at Lightsbridge playing the part of ordinary student Tessa Glass. The part of her life that will become Tessa’s is already packed and ready for her departure in the morning, save for the parts of her mage’s kit she’ll use to tidy her hair once more upon waking.

There isn’t much to pack, regardless; most of her cherished belongings are books, and she keeps those neat no matter what. Her shelves look emptier than usual despite her efforts, with some texts carefully packed for her next travels. “This was easier when we were always moving,” Tris mutters to herself, hands propped on her hips. She glares at her room as if the sheer force of her gaze might change something about its spartan nature.

“It’s nice having a proper home.” Briar’s steps are always silent, but Tris swears anyway as she turns to face him. She can usually feel his approach or hear it on the winds. He raises his eyebrows at her, waggling them expressively. “We’ll keep it nice and safe for you.”

“You’d better.” She relaxes enough to give him a slight smile. “Make sure the books are kept company; you know nobody else will remember.”

He laughs, and steps inside the room to carefully pat the books. His hands are blooming silver as the clouds today, but they’re clean. Tris knew they would be; Briar’s respect for books, as well as Tris, means that there was no chance he’d try to touch her books with dirt from his gardens upon them. “I will. And you’d better tell me about any books you find there you think I might like.”

“Of course.” Tris blinks rapidly, and Briar keeps his eyes on the books instead of her. He’s always been perceptive, sometimes to his detriment.

“Anyway, Lark and Rosethorn are here, and they brought Glaki. Little Bear’s outside.”

Tris raised an eyebrow in turn. “Why tell me in person?”

“I’m going to miss you,” Briar says. And I wanted to tell you that when you were alone, not in the middle of everything, and I don’t think even you will escape people now that they’re arriving.

Tris laughs a little, and tells herself she’s not going to cry. “I’m very good at escaping parties.”

“Not ones thrown for you.” Briar slowly moves towards her, telegraphing every movement as he wraps her up in a hug. He’s tall enough to tuck his chin over her head and rest it, very carefully, on top of her neat braids.

Tris sighs, and leans into her brother’s embrace. He smells like his green and growing things, even freshly washed as she knows he must be. She closes her eyes and rests her forehead on his shoulder. It’s different, going away when you all will still be here.

We’ll be here when you get back. And I think the girls have plans to send you care packages.

That’s extremely unnecessary.

You wanna try talking Sandry out of it?

Tris laughs despite herself. “Nobody wants to do that,” she says, ignoring how the words are muffled. Briar can hear them just fine.

Daja’s voice breaks in, quiet at the edges of her mind. Glaki’s asking for you, and I know Briar found you.

We’re coming, don’t get yourself all riled up, Briar says before Tris can snap at their sister.

Tris shakes her head at him, but smiles as she straightens her glasses. He grins broadly at her and offers his arm, always a gallant. Tris snorts at him and walks out her door and down the stairs on her own. “How many people have you tried that act on this week?”

“Not many,” he protests, a pace behind her. “Just because you’re too busy thinking about academics to think about the—”

“If you finish that sentence in front of Glaki, you’ll regret it,” Tris says pleasantly, paused at the door to the rest of the building.

Rude, Briar informs her.

Smart, she tosses back at him, and then she opens the door. Almost immediately, she feels Briar brace her against Little Bear’s over-enthusiastic greeting, followed by Glaki’s hug. “Little Bear, down,” she says, wrapping the arm she isn’t using to push ineffectively at the big dog around the child. The dog backs away a pace, which is enough space for Tris to carefully step past and into the crowd of greetings and babble that she knew had to await her.

Glaki’s chattering at her about the most recent lesson she and her friends had, and Tris listens absently as she walks forward, Glaki’s hand in hers. Rosethorn and Lark are at the table, helping Daja set it. Sandry looks up from the most recent bit of legal documentation her uncle the Duke has handed off to her to smooth out, conflicted guilt in her eyes, and Tris’ lips quirk into almost a smile. “You’re going to have as much ink on your hands as I will,” she tells her foster-sister.

Sandry laughs and sets the papers carefully aside. “Someone needs to make sure all these protections are in place. Your writing won’t get debated for hours on end.”

“If I’m good enough, it could be.” Tris follows the tug of Glaki’s hand towards the table and lets the girl seat her at the head. Tris makes a face, mostly for Briar’s benefit; that the table’s big enough for one end to be considered the head is unusual enough, but she’s never been comfortable in the place of honor.

As intended, Briar laughs. She insisted, he informs her. He’s got one hand on Little Bear’s head, keeping him calmer in the midst of the chaos.

Rosethorn seats herself next to Tris and says, “You’ll do better keeping your temper than I will.”

“Years of experience,” Tris says. She blinks hard; by Rosethorn’s wry smile, she saw the gesture and understands.

“Niko will visit as he can.” Lark’s hand rests gently on her shoulder for a moment, and that almost undoes her.

Tris bites her cheek to help keep her emotions in check. Even though the only people here tonight are family—her foster-siblings, their mentors, Glaki, and Little Bear—she still has a reputation to maintain. A beat later than she normally would have responded, she says, “So I’ll see a letter from him apologizing for how he got caught up in something every few months, and maybe see him once a year.”

“He hasn’t been that bad.”

Tris and Rosethorn raise their eyebrows at Lark in unison, and Lark shakes her head in return. “If you say so.”

“You’ll see,” Rosethorn says, and she stands up, ceding her spot to Briar, whose expression obviously carries more meaning to her than to Tris right now. Rosethorn pats his cheek and kisses the crown of his head when he sits, and Briar just shakes his head as Rosethorn promptly sits down again between him and Lark.

Sandry sits one seat down from Tris, leaving space for Glaki between them. Before Tris can protest that there’s no reason for everyone to be sitting before there’s food, Daja and Frostpine come in from the kitchen, carrying more food than Tris thinks is necessary and placing it on the table. “Don’t,” Daja warns at Tris’ expression. “It’s for you, on your journey, and we all helped make it.”

Tris settles back into her seat as Daja and Frostpine sit across from Rosethorn and Lark. The last seat, across from Tris, is left empty. Niko had said he might make it back in time to see Tris off, and even though she hadn’t held out hope, she’d still wished—

No matter. Tris breathes in and out, slowly, as Lark begins saying prayers over the food. Her family is here, a circle rooted in family and strength. They’ll still be here, even as she travels away, and will be waiting for her as she returns.

Lark finishes the prayers, and Tris joins in the free-for-all as everyone abandons dignity in search of good food still warm from the kitchen.

Thank you, she tells her foster-siblings, her mouth full of food and her heart too full to say the words aloud.

The warmth of their love comes back at her, both through the bond and through the way they smile at her, and surround her with their words and good cheer.

Tris packs the memory away just as neatly as any belonging; another cherished gift to help her through the next adventure.